And we're off. Voting for this year's Outstanding Achievement Awards - the prime accolades that any company can receive at the Channel Awards - has now started.
Last year Hewlett-Packard (HP) scooped the vendor title, Computer 2000 (C2000) walked away with the distribution award and Equanet was once again named Reseller of the Year.
These awards are special because they are the only ones where readers vote for the winner. There is no short list, no list of boxes to tick. Readers simply go to the Channel Awards web site and key in the name of the company that they believe should win.
This means the winners can only emerge if their customers go to www.channelawards.co.uk and very deliberately cast a vote in their favour.
While this may favour the bigger companies to a certain degree, it is the only way in which the channel can express its view about which company really has done the best job over the past 12 months, according to CRN editor Sara Driscoll.
"The winners have to be widely admired, otherwise they cannot attract enough votes to win, and even if they prompt customers to vote, those customers still have to want to reward them enough to go to the site and key their name into the winner's box," she said.
And while last year's winners and other major players from the vendor, distributor and reseller communities will be in the running, there is no certainty that any of them will win.
"There are plenty of smaller channel companies that have made a real impact this year," Driscoll said. "Readers have the power to see those companies recognised."
Even if a supplier is relatively small, it has a chance of winning if enough people are mobilised to vote for it, she added.
Companies such as HP and Microsoft, C2000 and Ingram Micro will certainly be in the running, but so could the likes of Fujitsu Siemens Computers, Cisco, IBM, Bell Microproducts, Midwich and Northamber. As well as the usual suspects, there are plenty of vendors and distributors that still hope to beat their bigger rivals.
Tony Kingston, marketing manager at reseller Deverill, said some rank outsiders, such as disaster-recovery solutions vendor Neverfail, deserve to get some recognition.
"We have worked with Neverfail for more than two years now and believe that it really values its partners. To date it has kept to its promises and never let us down," he said.
Andrew Royle, marketing director at The Computer Luggage Company, which makes the Techair laptop bags, thinks it would be a positive thing if smaller, more innovative firms are recognised.
"Successful companies look beyond the current landscape and to changing demands," he said. "XMA, for example, has succeeded where many failed, creating new sales pipelines by being open to new and unconventional products while still keeping a solid handle on the breadand-butter customers.
"I wish many more resellers would open their eyes and look beyond the tried and tested markets."
Many are certainly looking towards the voice and data sector, and Dave Payette, director of channel strategy for EMEA at Avaya, said several resellers have made great strides this year. "There are so many partners we could mention," he said.
"A few that come to mind for their outstanding performance this year are Call Centre Technology, Central Telecom, Sabio and Touchbase. I hope that these and many other partners in our channel will play an active role in this year's awards."
While all these companies would be newcomers to short lists or awards, there is no reason why newcomers cannot challenge for major awards, providing they have done enough for their channel.
Interactive Intelligence, an emerging supplier in the communications software market, would be a long shot, but marketing director Tony Martin thinks it has a chance.
"Despite being relatively small and the new kid on the block, we are giving the likes of Cisco and Avaya a run for their money in the business telephony market," he said.
Similarly, Martin believes distributors such as Crane can challenge for the main distributor award, and perhaps has a runner for Channel Personality of the Year.
"I would say Crane [has done the best job] in terms of new relationships and trying to create new markets, sheer activity and influence. And David George has to be the most featured exec in the channel," he said.
Some would argue that this particular accolade already belongs to Alex Tatham, of Bell Microproducts, and he is just one of many keeping their fingers crossed.
"It has been a long time since Ideal [the UK arm of Bell] won the Distributor of the Year award. It would crown an excellent year for us following the acquisition of OpenPSL and growth in the UK business. As always we will be on tenterhooks on the night. This could be our year!" he said.
There will be many others hoping 2004 will be their year, but they cannot win without reseller and broad industry support. Readers of CRN are the only ones that can decide who will win these awards and it is up to them to go to the site, cast their vote and make sure that the companies that deserve to win will do so.
Major vendors and distributors will expect to be in the running and doubtless be encouraging customers to vote for them. But in previous years the margins between the winners and the runners-up have not been vast, so those suppliers that have done a good job in 2004 really do have a chance, and every vote counts.
The site is now open for voting. Visit www.channelawards.co.uk and make sure your voice is heard.
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